Ford government backtracks on some cuts affecting Ontario francophones

After a backlash, Premier Doug Ford's government announced Friday afternoon it will take a number of steps to bolster the French language in Ontario, although it's still cutting funding for a French language university.

Government still not funding previously planned French-language university

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is scaling back some cuts to French-language services in the province, and naming Caroline Mulroney, left, the minister of francophone affairs. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

After a backlash, Premier Doug Ford's government announced Friday afternoon it will take a number of steps to bolster the French language in Ontario, although it's still cutting funding for a planned French language university.

In its fall economic statement, the Progressive Conservative government announced plans to eliminate the position of the French language services commissioner and scrap plans to build a French university as part of a plan to balance the budget.

The decision prompted immediate backlash from Ontarians, the federal government and Quebec's new premier, who asked Ford to reverse the cuts at their first face-to-face meeting this week. One of Ford's MPPs, Amanda Simard, broke ranks to criticize the move, saying she was disappointed and frustrated.

On Friday, the government announced it was changing its plans, vowing to: 

  • Re-create the position of French language services commissioner, that will be attached to the ombudsman's office.
  • Name Caroline Mulroney as the minister of francophone affairs.
  • Hire a senior policy adviser responsible for francophone affairs in Ford's office.

However, Ontario's government is not restoring funding for a planned French-language university in the province.

It's unclear how much the changes will cost to implement.

"The fiscal realities of our province's finances prohibit a new stand-alone French Language University right now," Mulroney said in a news release. 

Mulroney, who is also the province's attorney general, said she'll continue to advocate for the project.

Mitzie Hunter, the Liberal MPP representing Scarborough—Guildwood, called CBC Toronto to criticize Ford's move as little more than "rearranging staff."

While the announcement is still vague, Hunter said the reversal doesn't go far enough to ensure an independent officer is in place to protect the French language.

"We have to respect the rights of French-speaking people," she said.

Ford praises Franco-Ontarians as 'fighters'

In Friday's statement, Ford thanked "all the people who reached out" to his office following last week's announcement and said he looks forward to building a "constructive dialogue" with Franco-Ontarians.

"They're fighters. They're part of the history of Ontario. They continue to work hard for generations to promote and preserve their beautiful culture and language in our province," he said.

Ford will not take questions from reporters on Friday, his office said.

The Francophone Assembly of Ontario, which represents some 740,000 Franco-Ontarians, previously announced it's planning a day of action against the cuts on Dec. 1 in dozens of locations across the province.

With files from The Canadian Press